Mind, Food, Body: A Love Story

June 11, 2020

 I wish my story with weight, body image, and food was unique.  That it was a one in a million kind of story.  Sadly, I know it’s not.  Through private conversations with friends, hearing stories of my husband’s clients (he’s a personal trainer), blog posts and interviews ranging from celebrities to housewives, I know that so many others have struggled.  For me, it began in high school as a control issue.  I wanted to be thin so badly that at one point I would portion out saltine crackers and apples during the day and pick at family dinners.  I had this idea of beauty in my head and that beautiful people were somehow happy people. I wanted to be both.  

In college, I felt free, for a time.  But life would happen, stress and anxiety would make an unwelcomed appearance, and I again dealt with my emotions through the lens of food.  This time instead of starving, I began bingeing.  A secret I have kept to myself for years, and yet it feels good to release it.  Like after holding your breath underwater and finally lifting your head above the waves, letting the air flow again.  It’s scary at first, but I am learning that I am not my mistakes and I’m only as sick as my secrets.  I refuse to be sick any longer.  

So at the age of 19, I began to binge.  Late at night when my roommates were sleeping and the apartment was quiet, I would let me guard down.  In the morning, I always felt guilty, and incredibly disappointed as shame would wash over me.  Vowing next time would be different.  But I was trapped.  I hadn’t yet learned how to deal with emotional problems with emotional tools.  How not to confuse internal conflict with external “solutions.”  Frankly, I was caught on a hamster wheel of hurt and shame that only fueled more hurt and shame.

I would try during the day to make changes to counteract my nighttime secret.  Slimfast bars and shakes, intense calorie counting, and portion control ruled the day which only added to my hunger and frustration at night.  It was an emotional rollercoaster that began taking an ugly toll, both on my physical and mental health.

I don’t remember exactly how the change happened, but one day I decided to do something different.  I needed to make a change, take action.  Almost without thinking, I used the campus gym for the first time ever and did 30 minutes on a piece of cardio equipment.  And the next day I went back.  After a week, I felt better.  4 pm every day I made my way to the gym.  I still remember staring out the window watching the world go by, the sound of weights clacking in the background as they were being reracked, my own breath grow deeper as I increased the incline on the elliptical, and the beautiful sore burn in my legs for pushing myself just a little bit harder.

The process was gradual and at the time I didn’t own a scale, but I saw a change in my clothes.  I felt a change in my mood.  Instead of reaching for milk and cereal (my choice binge combo, mainly because I felt like no one would judge me at the grocery store for buying these two items even though they felt like my own personal brand of kryptonite), I would sweat out my emotions.  My confidence was like a timid animal starting to make its way out of hiding, checking first to make sure it was safe before fully reappearing in the stark daylight.  

Interestingly enough, during this time of transition, my husband-to-be appeared in my life.  I didn’t tell him at the time what was happening, I wanted to keep my skeletons in the closet, but I think somehow he sensed I was in healing mode.  He made me feel beautiful when I desperately needed to feel it and in the last 13 years, he has simply loved me.  

During that time, my best guess is I lost about 30 lbs.  It was gradual, a slow drip kind of process.  I was still drinking somewhat regularly and not necessarily eating the highest quality foods, but my heart was healing and the weight was melting off.  Around that time, I made the decision to swear off cereal.  I reasoned if it wasn’t in the house, I wouldn’t eat it.  I actually kept that promise until my oldest daughter was at the age to try Cheerios and I still remember gingerly putting the box in my cart.  After almost a decade, it felt like a badge of honor to have cereal in my house again.  Now at almost 20 years out, the anxiety over it has long since melted away along with the power it once wielded.

Having babies brought up a lot of my food noise.  The chaos, exhaustion, and monotony of newborn motherhood was brutal.  My sweet and absolutely dependent baby needed me in every sense of the word.  My fears of not being good enough bubbled to the surface and comingled with post-partum depression.  The waves of exhaustion felt crushing at times and I fell back on food as a comfort.  This time around I wasn’t necessarily bingeing the way I had during my college years, but chocolate and cookies had a soothing way of taking the edge off a difficult day.  I vowed not to drink, I was nursing and terrified of hurting my baby, but I did find solace in sugar. 

When our days and nights finally aligned with nature and nursing became rhythmic and predictable, I decided it was time again to make a change.  The walls of our apartment were stifling and I think my little one felt it too.  After some practice, we got the hang of the baby carrier, and stepping out into the fresh air felt magical.  Shutting the front door and rounding the corner felt like a new world had opened up.  I hadn’t realized how trapped and lonely I had been feeling.  With my family living a few hours away, my husband working incredibly late hours, and not having close friends yet in my new city, the isolation had taken a toll, one I didn’t recognize until I went outside.  Crossing the busy main street and heading to our neighborhood park was soothing and watching children on the playground was refreshing for us both.  My daughter’s eyes grew as she watched kids run from the swings to the slide and back again.  It was clear she loved the show.

Just like years before in college, I knew I needed to make a change and ultimately it came down to action.  I had to do something different.  Thinking wasn’t enough.  I had to be willing to pattern interrupt in order to get a different result, as Einstein reminds us with his warning of doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is the very definition of insanity.  

So we walked every day.  Around the neighborhood, to the park and back again.  Taking different routes, seeing different houses and faces.  It was the beginning of my healing.  I was finally able to begin the process of sifting through the fog that had been clouding my heart.  The afternoon chocolate cravings turned into walks with my little pumpkin. I started talking through my fears instead of drowning them in empty calories.  Walking helped me see the bigger picture.  My irrational fears and frustrations were put in perspective. And a quiet baby let me think rather than just react.  Slowly the baby weight started to come off and I began feeling better in my own skin.  The fresh air cleared my mind and I started to feel like me again.

Fast forward to another baby (less than two years after my first), my husband becoming incredibly ill another year later and then another baby several years after that.  Life was busy, to say the least.  I was doing my best to meet everyone’s needs the best I could but somewhere around that time, my youngest was 6 months old or so, I realized I wasn’t taking care of me.  I was eating the crust off my daughter’s grilled cheese a little too frequently and was downing 2-3 cups of coffee per day, chasing the caffeine high that inevitably led to an unsightly crash.  My exercise routine was non-existent unless you count chasing children.  In short, I wasn’t healthy and again I knew I had to make better choices.  So I jumped on the Paleo bandwagon.  I cut out flour and sugar.  I filled my plate with veggies and protein.  I felt great, but the prep was too much.  After a couple of months, I just couldn’t do it anymore.  And I needed other options for breakfast, a meal that has always frustrated me because carbs make me sleepy and anything else feels like too much work.  So 10 lbs above my ideal weight I stayed.  I was happy to have lost most of the baby weight but still wasn’t completely satisfied.  

Just after my youngest daughters first birthday, I felt ready.  Right around that time I was introduced to a healthy living program that I thought might be the answer to what I had been looking for.  For 30 days I followed the rules, I made the meals they recommended and drank the suggested protein shakes.  The first week was so hard.  It was definitely an adjustment, especially because I gave up coffee, something I had tried to do but inevitably would give in to my addiction because the caffeine withdrawal headaches were too painful.  I couldn’t believe that I could actually stop drinking my beloved cup o’ joe.  Then a beautiful thing happened, I stopped having my morning cup and didn’t have any withdrawal symptoms.   I never experienced headaches.  I know some people do experience other symptoms even on this plan, headaches included, but for me, I didn’t.    

Making the sacrifice for those 30 days was so worth it because afterward, I felt so much better.  Even though it was hard to push away the dessert at my mother in laws birthday party, I kept reminding myself this was temporary.  In 30 days I could mindfully add back the things I really wanted.  In the end, the sacrifice was worth it.  I had more energy, despite having a one-year-old that was committed to her 2 am visits.  I lost 6 lbs and my gut felt better.  I needed those 30 days to reset my body and realized that so much of my sugar craving was a physical response to an emotional problem.  Again my old food noise had risen up and rather than dealing with my anxiety or stress, I was masking it with food.  Stripping the cravings away forced me to handle my stress in more constructive ways like talking it through, taking a walk, or reading a book.  I was learning how to listen to my body and what it actually needed.  Overall I could see the positive changes spilling into other areas of my life as well.  

At that point, I decided I needed to share my discovery with others, especially other busy people who might be struggling with low energy, wanting to lose weight, or simply wanting to feel better.  I felt like I had unknowingly stumbled on a gift and that was when I knew I couldn’t keep it to myself.  Perhaps you have struggled as well.  Here is a link that better explains what Arbonne’s 30 Days to Healthy Living Program looks like.  Feel free to reach out with an email if you have questions or want to try it for yourself.  Check out this link to learn more about the 30’s Days to Healthy Living Program. I’ve helped and coached countless people through it and nothing thrills me more than seeing them have their “aha!” moment and reach their goals as well.  I’d love to support your on your journey as well.  

My best advice is, do you.  In other words, do what works for you.  Maybe you don’t need a program, maybe you love a different one, it’s all good.  For me, I needed a tool to get to the goals I wanted to reach.  A shortcut, a road map to set my feet on a path for success.  Everyone’s journey looks different and isn’t that a  good thing?  That is how we can learn from each other and ultimately grow ourselves.  

My habits and hurts surrounding food actually had little to do with the food itself and everything to do with me.  My need for comfort, security, and peace.  To block out the noise because the stress felt too great.  My weight gain and lack of energy were a by-product of a bigger issue.  I needed to come to the conclusion that I was worthy of treating myself well and enjoy life in the process.    

I’m someone that loves a glass of white wine on a warm summer evening, a piece of cake at a birthday party, or indulging a bit when it comes to a beautiful cheese and cracker board.  I don’t want to live my life counting calories or calling any food “good” or “bad.” Life is simply too short to miss out on the joy of eating delicious meals.  However, mindfulness, making good choices, eating out of hunger rather than boredom, or stress are all lessons in self-love.  To fuel instead of abuse.  To build trust with oneself and ultimately live a healthier life.  We all deserve to be treated well and sometimes the first step needs to come from within.  After my own tangled relationship with emotional eating, body image, and self-esteem,  I can say ultimately my journey had to be centered on love.  I had to believe that despite all my imperfections, shortcomings, flaws, and jagged edges, I was worth loving, just as I was.  The choice to exercise and eat well finally made sense when they were based on treating myself with respect.  Interestingly enough, the better I treated myself, the better I was able to love others and let them love me.  The walls of my insecurity started breaking down as I realized I didn’t have to believe the lies of self-doubt any longer.  I could be me and be loved, all at the same time.  I also know as a mom of three girls, I have a huge responsibility to teach them self-love.  That their bodies are beautifully and wonderfully made.  I have to be an example because as any parent knows, more is caught than taught.  I have to live that belief the best I can in order for them to have a better shot at believing me and living it out in their own lives as well.  

I don’t want to paint the picture that somehow I never fall back into old patterns or that the panicked inner voice doesn’t rise up from time to time.  It does.  And it has been and continues to be a process in learning how to love myself well.  This pandemic, in particular, has stirred up many of my old insecurities on top of being incredibly stressful and has brought a whole new meaning to the term: unknown.  The difference is this time around I see the anxiety lurking in the corner, where before it used to take me by surprise and before I knew what was happening I was taken down.  Now I recognize the fears rising up, the questions brewing, and am doing my best to get ahead of them before they run-amuck.  I’m working on listening first and then reacting.  Sometimes that looks like something as simple as downing a big glass of water and buying time to see if I’m actually hungry or if it’s something else.  I’m praying and asking God for His peace and wisdom.  I’m talking more, sharing my feelings and writing them down.  I’m picking up the phone instead of digging into a box of Oreos.  I’m meal planning instead of ordering greasy pizza and keeping a well-stocked supply of healthy snacks on hand.  I’m giving myself better tools so I don’t fall back into well-grooved patterns.

As my sweet hubby reminds me, I have to let the bees out. Opening my mouth and releasing the unwanted thoughts into the daylight where they can be disarmed and dismantled.  Not only is it healing it is also an act of self-love that is good for everyone.  I can be a much better version of myself when I can let go of the doubts and fears that oftentimes weigh me down.  I see this in my parenting, marriage, and friendships.  I show up better and can give more of myself because I’m not depleted.

The act of treating ourselves well is not one that is earned.  We are each born into this world as a precious baby.  A beautiful gift with our own unique abilities and talents.  We all deserve love and respect.  Period.  We are all worthy. That includes loving ourselves as well.  This old Chinese proverb is a beautiful reminder that the journey of a hundred miles begins with a single step.  Our steps all look different as we each have different obstacles to face and climb.  It is a journey of a lifetime, filled with challenges, twists and turns.  But the lesson I have learned and continue to relearn over and again is that:  each step taken counts.  I never dreamed over a decade ago I would be able to live a life that wasn’t consumed with anxiety and depression.  That I could somehow crawl out of my fear.  The process was grueling at times but unequivocally worth it.  Almost 20 years since my first brush with an eating disorder, it amazes me how much I have changed since then.  Oftentimes the unseen fight of repeatedly getting back, over time, is the recipe for lasting change.  Sometimes we just have to dig deep inside ourselves and be willing to take that first tiny, brave step forward.

Have you struggled with food or body image? What are some tools you have used for healing?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  

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